Dad Poem (Ultrasound #2)

with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

Months into the plague now,
I am disallowed
entry even into the waiting
room with Mom, escorted outside
instead by men armed
with guns & bottles
of hand sanitizer, their entire
countenance its own American
metaphor. So the first time
I see you in full force,
I am pacing maniacally
up & down the block outside,
Facetiming the radiologist
& your mother too,
her arm angled like a cellist’s
to help me see.
We are dazzled by the sight
of each bone in your feet,
the pulsing black archipelago
of your heart, your fists in front
of your face like mine when I
was only just born, ten times as big
as you are now. Your great-grandmother
calls me Tyson the moment she sees
this pose. Prefigures a boy
built for conflict, her barbarous
and metal little man. She leaves
the world only months after we learn
you are entering into it. And her mind
the year before that. In the dementia’s final
days, she envisions herself as a girl
of seventeen, running through fields
of strawberries, unfettered as a king
-fisher. I watch your stance and imagine
her laughter echoing back across the ages,
you, her youngest descendant born into
freedom, our littlest burden-lifter, world
-beater, avant-garde percussionist
swinging darkness into song.

More by Joshua Bennett

Owed to the Durag

Which I spell that way because that’s the way it was spelled
on all the clear plastic packets I grew up buying for no more
than two dollars, two fifty max, unless I was at Duane Reade
or some likewise corporatized venue but who buys
the majority of their durags at Duane Reade anyway,
who would actually wage war on the durag’s good name
by spelling it d-e-w hyphen r-a-g, as I recently read
some sad lost souls do in an article in The Guardian,
this isn’t botany. This isn’t a device one might use
to attend to the suburban garden & its unremarkable
flora, drying freshly damp wisteria with black silk
or the much more common nylon-rayon-cotton blend.
I could see d-o hyphen r-a-g. That works for me.
One could argue this version makes more sense
even than the spelling I am accustomed to,
reflective as it is of nothing other than itself.
I have never heard the term do used in a sentence
by anyone other than a long-lost colleague
at Princeton who once reached wide-eyed
for my high top fade before a swift rebuke,
marked by my striking his wrist as if some large
though distinctly non-lethal mosquito, surely a top six
proudest moment of anti-colonial choreography
I have dared call mine in this odd, improbable
life I hold to my chest like a weapon. I know.
I know. This wasn’t supposed to be about them.
You make me inordinately beautiful. Let’s talk
about that. Or how I’m 12 years old & the cape
of a white durag billows from beneath my Marlins cap
like a sham poltergeist, flight & failure contained
within a single body, worthy core of any early
2000’s era New York rapper’s coat of arms.
I was lying before. Once, while we sat, quiet
as mourners on the front porch, my father spat
that’s a nice do you have there, eyeing the soft mess
of cork-screwed darkness atop his second youngest
son’s aging face, no sign of the good hair he praised
for years to family & co-workers alike. Alas, old friend,
you somehow make me even more opaque, make
me mystery, criminal, dope boy by the corner
of Broadway & 127th compelling respectable
women to reach for smart-phones, call for backup,
smooth, adjustable shadow, like policy
or fire, you blacken everything you touch.

Owed to the Plastic on Your Grandmother's Couch

Which could almost be said
to glisten, or glow,
like the weaponry
in heaven.
Frictionless.
As if slickened
with some Pentecost
-al auntie’s last bottle
of anointing oil, an ark
of no covenant
one might easily name,
apart from the promise
to preserve all small
& distinctly mortal forms
of loveliness
any elder
African American
woman makes
the day she sees sixty.
Consider the garden
of collards & heirloom
tomatoes only,
her long, single braid
streaked with gray
like a gathering
of weather,
the child popped
in church for not
sitting still, how even that,
they say, can become an omen
if you aren’t careful,
if you don’t act like you know
all Newton’s laws
don’t apply to us
the same. Ain’t no equal
& opposite reaction
to the everyday brawl
race in America is,
no body so beloved
it cannot be destroyed.
So we hold on to what
we cannot hold.
Adorn it
in Vaseline, or gold,
or polyurethane wrapping.
Call it ours
& don’t
mean owned.
Call it just
like new,
mean alive.

In Defense of Henry Box Brown

Not every trauma has a price
point. You & I are special
that way. No doubt, there is good
money to be made in the rehearsal of
a father’s rage, an empty crate,
whatever instrument ushered us into
lives of impure repetition. Years on
end, you replayed your infamous
escape for hundreds
of tearful devoted, sold out
shows an ocean away from the place
that made you possible, made you parcel,
uncommon contraband carried
over amber ululations of grain
& grass & filthy hands:
white, black, unwitting all the same.
If they had only known the weight
of what passed before them.
The wait you waded through.
Twenty-seven hours spent inside
a 3x2 jail of splinter & rust. I too
have signed over the rights to all my
best wounds. I know the stage
is a leviathan with no proper name
to curtail its breadth. I know
the respectable man enjoys a dark body best
when it comes with a good
cry thrown in. I know all the code
words, Henry. Why you nicknamed
the violence. Why all your nightmares
end in vermilion.

Related Poems

What I Mean When I Say Harmony (I)

Dear Boy: Be the muscle,
make music to the bone—risk

that mercurial measure
of contact. There are those

who touch a body and leave it
graceful:      be that kind

of wonder in the dark.      And if I ever
catch you confusing

a pulse for a path      or a bridge
to beat loneliness, your blood

will be the object of discussion—:
I will ask to see it back,

if only to know the shared sinew,
if only to relight your blessing,

if only to rekindle the song
carried in your hands.

Ceremony for Remembering the Doorless World

                                        October

             where three we-horses mark ground,
turn snake our necks inside the guayla circle. My aranci,

             —etan, childfox
                                    out my fourth mouth, you drank
                          
                      then the year went dark

                      & our own flowers & fires & what we thought we were

though, still, our faces opened to
              the whooping of coyotes

at the canyon rim,
                          how they throw their voices out,

              falling, starless veils of lace
                            over our still, black heads.

                            Awake I sit sentried with all my Sight
& the purple fennel musting after rain.
               This hour

                             Become my canyon, become my bottom of the 
     world
listening for your breaths—to ward off nonbreath.

    Parent, my son—My son,
                          a flicker barely

               born. Already

withstand the blanched eye of our grief

               One morning with our faces crying into
the arroyo it answers:
               Once there were no doors.
                                 No doors on earth, not a single one.

               —so when I listen I
still hear you still kicking the ball,

               laughing as you say the story of endurance.

               & the women flutter their flickering tongues
                         a flock of sound suddenly aflight to be,
               for you, both here & further

                        they throw their voicebirds over the births

                        so we are three & simultaneous earths inside
               your coil of fatherhair to which I press my ear to hear
the histories, then the bell

               Then the whirl  The whir
                             of doctors above your beds,
               your noiseless struggle to be.

                                                       Stay.        Say. 
              
You are my Heres & Furthers
               Daddy, now I join the mothers

                    Remember, when you were a little boy
                             I used to hold you?

the mother

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.